Cheese Making Merit Badge

The adorable, always humorous MBA Jane is my way of honoring our Sisterhood Merit Badge program, now with 5,344 dues-paying members who have earned an amazing number of merit badges so far—7,177 total! Take it away, MBA Jane!!! MJ

Wondering who I am? I’m Merit Badge Awardee Jane (MBA Jane for short). In my former life …

For this week’s Farm Kitchen/Cheese Making Merit Badge, I was movin’ on up, to the East side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky … Oops. Sorry. Sometimes I am overtaken by a wild urge to sing the lyrics to classic television shows. Anyway, back to the badge, Madge!

I was movin’ on up, if you will, to the Intermediate Level of the Cheese Making badge. Because, let’s face it chickadees, if there is cheese, I will be there. When it comes to snack foods, I come to snack foods! And since my buttermilk and yogurt were both a resounding success, I was feeling pretty confident. I was already having daydreams about Aged Gouda, Smoked Mozzarella, Garlic Jack, Drunken Goat, and a creamy Bleu! The stinkier the cheese, the closer to heaven, isn’t that right? I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.

Whoa. Slow down there, old girl. I can hear you saying it. Okay, okay, you’re right. Baby steps.

Baby Swiss?

My lofty ideals are going to get me into trouble one day soon, I can feel it. Back to reality and a plan. The plan is:

Rennet.

What is it? An excellent question, I’m so glad you asked. After some super sleuthing on my part, I am able to answer it for you. Drum roll, puhleeze …

There are two kinds of rennet: animal and vegetable. No, no mineral. Haha! Traditional animal rennet is an enzyme found in the stomachs of calves, lambs, or goats before they consume anything but milk. Vegetable rennet is obtained from a type of mold (it’s called Mucur Miehei). You can find rennet in a few different forms: tablets, liquid, and powder. Now, onto the good stuff! (And, as ironically as a black fly in your Chardonnay, we won’t be using rennet today).

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I decided to make my own soft cheese. This can be used in place of ricotta, as a queso fresco, as a mascarpone, even as a feta in your salads! Talk about versatile. This is the little black dress of cheeses!

MAKE YOUR OWN SOFT CHEESE

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES
MAKES: 1½ CUPS

1 quart whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 T distilled white vinegar

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine milk and cream and cook about 10 minutes or just until steam begins to rise from the surface and small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. DO NOT BOIL.
2. Remove from heat and gently stir in the vinegar.
3. Let sit, undisturbed, for 20 minutes. The mixture will separate into curds and whey. (Remember Miss Muffet?)
4. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and set it in a deep, medium-size bowl.
5. Spoon the curds into the strainer; the whey will run through the cheesecloth.
6. Discard the whey.
7. Cover and refrigerate curds in the strainer and bowl for at least 4 hours, to continue draining. (You can also leave overnight.)
8. Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth and break it up in a small bowl.
9. Serve plain or stir in your choice of flavor blends (the flavor blend recipes below make enough for one batch).
10. Line a small ramekin or vintage gelatin mold with cheesecloth and press flavored cheese into mold.
11. Tip onto serving plate and remove cheesecloth.
12. Gently wash cheesecloth and hang to dry for your next batch.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine milk and cream and cook about 10 minutes or just until steam begins to rise from the surface and small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. DO NOT BOIL.

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Remove from heat and gently stir in the vinegar. Let sit, undisturbed, for 20 minutes. The mixture will separate into curds and whey. (Remember Miss Muffet?)

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Line a strainer with cheesecloth and set it in a deep, medium-size bowl. Spoon the curds into the strainer; the whey will run through the cheesecloth. Discard the whey. Cover and refrigerate curds in the strainer and bowl for at least 4 hours, to continue draining. (You can also leave overnight.)

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Then, remove the cheese from the cheesecloth and break the cheese up in a small bowl. Serve plain, or stir in your choice of flavor blends (the flavor blend recipes below make enough for one batch).

Here are some dynamite flavor combinations for your soft cheese.

GARLIC/DILL BLEND

2 T garlic, minced
2 T fresh dill, chopped
½ t salt
½ t pepper

GARLIC/HERB BLEND

2 T garlic, minced
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
½ t salt
½ t pepper

FIG/WALNUT BLEND

½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 cup dried figs, stemmed and finely chopped
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and minced
1 T capers, finely chopped
2 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1½ t fresh thyme, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Toast walnuts on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes or until fragrant (watch closely; they can burn quickly).
3. In a medium skillet, combine figs and water. Cook over medium-high heat about 5 minutes or until water is absorbed and figs are soft.
4. Stir in walnuts and remaining ingredients; mix well.

Leave a comment 3 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    My daughter makes and sells soft goat cheese from her herd of Lamancha goats. When we first learned to make it in my kitchen ( she is married now and a small farm of her own), we came up with two recipes that still seem to be today’s popular requests. One is to make fresh basil pesto and add that to the cheese. The second is to mix a honey, orange zest, 1/2 squeezed orange juice, pinch of cinnamon and chopped walnuts to the mix. This blend is great for a breakfast spread on toast, bagels, waffles or biscuits. Once you make soft cheese, you quickly get hooked because it is easy and so versatile to flavor Oh my, what a treat!!

    • MaryJane says:

      I agree. Those are the best ingredients for just about anything. Pesto makes everything betta! I like a combination of the the two on pizza–pesto and walnuts and honey (but not the orange and cinnamon.) How is staying home from work? I’ll bet your days are still full and you’re wondering how you ever had time to “work” also:)

      • Winnie Nielsen says:

        Staying home is great!! I am working on a knitting project, and today I made an apron and potholder for an upcoming swap on the Connection. Sewing in the day is fabulous! Also, I finished the book you sent two nights ago. It is about a Welsh community family during the reign of Queen Victoria when workers were struggling to get unions established for safer working conditions and pay in the coal mines. What dreadful work these poor souls did everyday with no protections. The story was also written like a translation of how the Welsh talk the Queen’s English. It was interesting and hard to put down. Thanks so much for sending it to me and kicking off my summer reading I have been looking forward to doing!!

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